[ Home | Contents | Search | Post ]


From: Han van Putten, The Netherlands
Category: Category 2
Date: 15 Mar 2000
Time: 12:22:27
Remote Name:



Habitat II, the second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements, which was held in Istanbul in June 1976, was generally considered as one of the more successful United Nations conferences. 151 governments agreed on the course of action to be undertaken during the next decades to provide adequate housing for all and for the development of sustainable human settlements. The results of the conference were laid down in two documents: a short Declaration of Istanbul and a more extensive Habitat Agenda which contains 79 commitments by governments and more than 600 recommendations as part of a global plan of action.

A special characteristic of Habitat II was that, more than in previous similar conferences, partners (local authorities and representatives of civil society) were , in addition to governments, able to take part in the conference and its preparations and to submit suggestions for the text of the final documents.

Promoting Implementation

Reaching agreement on the Istanbul Declaration and the Habitat Agenda was an important step. It is even more important that these documents are implemented. How can this be ensured?

As recommendations of UN conferences have, strictly legally speaking, no binding power and the UN cannot enforce their execution, their implementation has to be promoted by other means. One important element is the pressure carried out by public opinion, NGOs, the media and parliaments on individual governments, asking them to carry out the promises they made in Istanbul. Another element is to ask governments to report regularly to the UN on the progress they have made in implementing the recommendations*)

In the Habitat Agenda itself monitoring is referred to in several contexts:

1. Governments are asked to report on the implementation of the commitments and recommendations they have agreed to in Istanbul (art.222; 225; 241).

2.Governments are asked to report on the implementation of their National Plans of Action and other relevant national programmes in the fields of housing and sustainable human settlements (art.212).

3.Governments, together with their partners, have to make internal evaluations of the implementation of their Habitat commitments (art.212).


*) An increasing number of international covenants concluded under UN auspices contains articles on so-called treaty-bodies, to which the parties to the covenant commit themselves to submit regular progress reports.

4. All partners have from time to time to monitor and evaluate their own performances in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda and report on it (art.240).

5.The Commission on Human Settlements and the Habitat Centre have to monitor how the UN organs are implementing the relevant recommendations of the Habitat Agenda (art.225(d) and 228(a)).

6. The Centre is charged to žanalyse and monitor major trends in urbaniza

tion and the impact of urban policiesÓ (art.228(m)). For this purpose a Global Urban Observatory has been established within the Centre.

7. Through the Best Practices Programme governments and partners are encouraged to report on successful innovations.

As the Habitat Agenda did remain vague about the exact nature of the monitoring process, the 1996 session of the General Assembly asked the Commission on Human Settlements to provide guidance in this matter. However, at its 16th session (1997) it devoted so much of its attention to the managerial and financial problems of the Centre that no time was left for this question and up till now there is considerable confusion as to what exactly is expected from governments.

For a discussion at the informal meeting of 1997 of the Housing Ministers from the 15 members of the European Union, they were asked to report in the implementation of the recommendations of Habitat II. Some of their very different reports dealt with the Habitat Agenda; others with their National Plans of Action.

Also in 1997, the Secretary of the Human Settlements Commission of the UN Economic Commission of Europe circulated 7 questions about the implementation of the Habitat Agenda among ECE member-governments. Less than half of the 55 members reacted.

In preparation for the 17th session of the Commission on Human Settlements (May 1999), the Habitat Centre has circulated two sets of questions dealing with the implementation of the Habitat Agenda. One is contained in a letter dated 10 April 1998 annoucing the publication of the first biennial report on žThe State of the WorldŪs CitiesÓ. From the letter it appears that the report will not only žanalyse major trends in urbanization and the impact of urban policiesÓ, but also be a žÓjournal of global progress in implementing the Habitat AgendaÓ. The table of contents of the report is attached to the letter and governments and partners are sollicited to send in žcontributions in the form of any information which may contribute to this effortÓ.

The other questions, circulated in June 1998, deal mainly with the mechanisms and procedures set up by governments, local authorities and NGOs for the follow-up of Habitat II.


Confusion exists also about the extent to which in national reports on implementation use should be made of indicators to measure progress.

Indicators first figured on the agenda of the Commission on Human Settlements in 1989 when it asked the Executive Director of the Habitat Centre to draft a set of indicators which could be used in monitoring the implementation of the Global Strategy for Shelter to the Year 2000 which had been adopted in the previous year. During the period 1989 to 1993 a joint working group of the World Bank and Habitat elaborated a first phase of a Housing Indicators Programme. In 1993 it was decided to extend this set with indicators on other urban concerns: poverty, unemployment, productivity, social development, infrastructure and governance.

The report containing some 50 indicators, which the working group submitted in.1995 was not so much focussed on the implementation of the Global Strategy. It made a general plea for the use of indicators at every level of government as well as by NGOs. It emphasized that indicators often have to be adapted to local circumstances and it encouraged national and local authorities to do so and, if necessary, define their own indicators. A series of information and training activities for the use of indicators was there-upon launched by Habitat and other international and regional agencies

Governments were asked to make use of indicators in their national reports for the Habitat II conference and data on key indicators were received from 221 cities in 104 countries. They are being analyzed by the Global Urban Observatory.for a report to the 17th session of the Commission on Human Settlements

In its resolution 16/1 of May 1997 the Commission on Human Settlements requested governments to make use of indicators in their national reports but did not specify which ones.

Special session of the General Assembly

There is now both an urgent need and a new opportunity to take away the uncertainty about the method of monitoring and the use of indicators and for the Commission on Human Settlements to formulate practical guidelines for this purpose. At the request of the General Assembly it has to act as the Preparatory Committee for a special session of the General Assembly which will be held in June 2001 with the objective of reviewing and assessing the progress made in the implementation of the Habitat Agenda. The Commission has been specifically asked by the General Assembly to make, at its forthcoming session (4-15 May 1999) recommendations on žthe scope to be covered by the review and appraisal and, consequently, the substantive documents to be prepared by the secretariat for the first substantive session (April-May 2000) of the Preparatory CommitteeÓ


At present there are a number of obstacles on the road towards an effective monitoring and evaluation system.

1. If governments are asked to submit national reports in reply to such general questions as žwhat have you done to implement the Habitat Agenda?Ó, the response is likely to consist of an avalanche of information on a great number of different subjects. The lack of uniformity between the different reports will make it almost impossible to discover general trends and obtain indications as to the subjects to which the Comission will have to give special attention in its workprogramme.

2. There is the unresolved problem of overlapping. Are the recommendations on Local Agenda 21 to be monitored by the Commission on Sustainable Development or Habitat and those on poverty alleviation by Habitat or the Commission on Social Development? How can be avoided that governments are requested to provide the same information to different UN bodies?

3. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the Habitat Agenda not only asks for regular monitoring of the implementation of the Habitat Agenda, but also charges the Global Urban Observatory with the task to žanalyze and monitor major trends in urbanization and the impact of urban policiesÓ In several documents no clear distinction is made between questions on how far the Habitat Agenda recommendations have been carried out on the one hand, and about urban trends on the other.

4. Countries receive no clear directions which indicators to use. Not always mention is made of gauging dates, essential for measuring progress.

5. The working group of the World Bank and Habitat, which has drafted the list of housing and urban indicators, has done so before the end of Habitat II. The list therefore shows different gaps. No indicator has for instance been defined for community-based housing production.

6. Most urban indicators deal with local communities and are not applicable to national situations, while all commitments contained in the Habitat Agenda have been engaged by national governments and by far the most recommendations have been directed towards them.

7. Some indicators defined by the working group are far from perfect. As yardstick for participation, the percentage of the population taking part in local elections is mentioned; as measure for integration: the number of deaths due to violence and the number of refugees.

8. In order to measure trends, indicators have to be collected frequently, not just once in five years.

9. Some reserve must be applied to the interpretation of indicators which are to measure the effectiveness of policy measures as there may be other factorswhich have caused the situation to change.

10. Many countries do not have the necessary facilities and skills

to collect the requested data. Even a country like the Netherlands with a long statistical tradition finds it difficult to produce data for some of the indicators of the UN list.

Aims of the seminar

The present situation with regard to monitoring and the use of indicators is confusing. It could create the impression that the follow-up of Habitat II is not taken seriously. A continuation of this state of affairs detracts from the credibility of the UN and national governments.

The seminar organized by the Netherlands Habitat Platform on 30 March 1999 in Rotterdam wants to make a contribution towards an effective monitoring system. It will address the following questions:

a) Is it feasible to select from among the many Habitat Agenda commitments and recommendations a limited set of key items on which governments will be asked to report? (The Social Summit of Kopenhagen has decided on 10 items on which progress would be monitored.) Or do situations differ too much from country to country to make use of a uniform set unpracticable? According to which criteria should the items be selected; by whom?

b) Should governments be asked to use a limited number of žkey indicatorsÓ and a uniform set of gauging dates? Should all countries use the same indicators? Or is comparability not a requirement?

c) How can the limitations of the reliability of indicators be overcome? (See žobstaclesÓ

7, 8 and 9.). How can the practical problems of their application be solved? (žObstacleÓ 10).

d) What are the present monitoring practices in some individual countries? Are their indicators suitable to be applied universally? Should/can they be integrated in a UN monitoring system?

e)What is the experience with monitoring and indicators applied in the follow-up of some other UN conferences?

f)What are the prospects of a division of work among UN agencies about monitoring the follow-up of conferences?

g) How can a structural relationship be established between reporting on implementation and the use of Best Practices?

Han van Putten

(The author is Honorary President of Habitat International Coalition, but the paper does not necessarily reflect the views of the organization.)

Last changed: March 13, 2002